The question of reordinations reflects one of the great theological issues from the 3rd and 4th centuries onward. Essentially the debate concerned the power of the Church over Sacraments administered outside the Church. Were they valid Sacraments? Should Baptism and Orders administered by heretics and schismatics be repeated? This use of the term "reordination" should be distinguished from two other possible uses: (1) the view of some theologians of the reformed churches that the power of orders can be lost and so validly reputed, and (2) reordination in cases where the first ceremony was clearly null, e.g., lack of proper form or matter. This article is not concerned with these uses.
The traditional teaching of the Catholic Church, defined by the Council of Trent [H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer (32d ed. Freiburg 1963) 1622], is that Orders once validly conferred cannot be reiterated, for the character is indelible. In the case of unworthy ministers, the traditional view, the one that has been the "common and certain" doctrine of all approved authors since the 13th century (St. Thomas, Summa theologiae, Suppl. 38.2; Cappello, 275), is that Orders conferred by heretics, provided due matter, form, and intention are observed, are valid. Thus the mere fact of heresy or unworthiness in the minister does not invalidate the Sacrament. Hence there can be no reordination unless, of course, other factors intervene. Thus, if Anglican orders are excluded, it is because Catholic teaching insists that there is some defect of form and intention, considered indispensable by the Council of Trent (ibid., 1624). Eastern Orthodox Churches generally stress more strongly the connection between right faith and right Sacraments.
The history of the Church records a number of occasions, and certainly many doubtful ones, when Orders conferred in a proper manner, but by an unworthy minister, have been condemned as useless and were therefore repeated. The doctrine behind this attitude is identified with St. cyprian's (d. 258) teaching (see Saltet 11–34). It had some strong adherents in the Middle Ages, e.g., humbert of silva candida (d. 1061) in his Libri tres adversus simoniacos (1054–58). The majority, however, opposed the invalidity theme, and their arguments were identified with the doctrine of St. augustine (d. 430) recognizing the validity of orders conferred by heretics [Contra epist. Parmeniani, 2.28; Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum (Vienna 1866–) 51:79–80]. Such ministers on being reconciled to the Church were not to be reordained. (Whether they would be allowed the exercise, i.e., lawful use, of their Orders, was a different matter.) Conciliar legislation supported this view, which was held by the majority throughout the period of controversy.
The number of reordinations was not, in fact, very large, if we bear in mind the period of time involved (see Saltet or Amann). We shall consider only the problem of cases in which the popes ordered ministers to be reordained whose Orders would today be regarded as valid. Thus the Roman Synod of 769 declared null the ordinations conferred by the false pope Constantine II; and Stephen IV (d. 772) reordained the bishops. Sergius III (d.911) ordered all those ordained by formosus (d. 896) to be reordained. In 964 the ordinations conferred by Leo VIII, who had usurped the papacy, were annulled by John XII (d. 964). During the 11th century reordination was particularly associated with the "heresy" of simony. The validity of simoniacal orders was greatly discussed from Leo IX (d. 1054) onward. Hence Leo IX ordered certain simoniacs to be reordained. humbert and St. peter damian (d. 1072) expressed opposite viewpoints, but it was the latter who set the general tone for the 11th century. Despite some opposing views, especially among the canonists of Bologna, the doctrine of the validity of Sacraments independent of the probity and faith of the minister became universally admitted by the 13th century.
How is one to explain these "reordinations"? Three solutions have been suggested. The first assumes them to be examples of a "temporary deformation of doctrine"; the second holds that reordinations were valid because the Church has the power to determine the conditions in which the power of Orders may be validly exercised. Neither explanation is satisfactory, especially the second, which is against accepted teaching. The third and more likely solution is that the significance of the term "reordination" has not been sufficiently examined. Moreover, the term commonly used to describe unworthy Orders (irritae ) is too often mistakenly translated as "invalid" when it really meant "illicit." Again there are few recorded instances of reordination. Where there are such instances, they usually occurred in times of political and ecclesiastical conflict, e.g., at the time of the investiture struggle. In some cases reordination obviously referred not to the Sacrament but to the canonical institution. Certain popes, e.g., Leo IX, acted unwisely under pressure, but it is clear that the magisterium and infallibility were not involved. Despite Saltet's fundamental work, there is need today for the whole question to be reexamined.
Bibliography: l. saltet, Les Réordinations (Paris 1907). j. tixeront, Holy Orders and Ordination, tr. s. a. raemers (St. Louis 1928). v. fuchs, Der Ordinationstitel von seiner Entstehung bis auf Innocenz III (Bonn 1930). É. amann, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 13.2:2385–2431. f. m. cappello, Tractatus canonicomoralis de sacramentis iuxta codicem iuris canonici, v. 4 (3d ed. Rome 1951), 4. h. lennerz, De sacramentis Novae Legis in genere (Rome 1950). b. leeming, Principles of Sacramental Theology (Westminster, Md. 1956). a. vanneste, "La Sainteté et la foi du ministre et du sujet des sacrements," Ephemerides theologicae Lovanienses 39 (1963) 5–29. j. gilchrist, "Simoniaca haeresis and the Problem of Orders from Leo IX to Gratian," Proceedings of the 2d International Congress of Medieval Canon Law Held at Boston, August 1963 (Vatican City 1964).